How Japanese Culture Influences Chinese Luxury, As Shown by Paul Smith

    Jing Daily spoke to the fashion designer Paul Smith on how he became successful with his namesake brand around the world.
    Photo: Courtesy Paul Smith
    Tamsin SmithAuthor
      Published   in Fashion

    This week, internationally acclaimed British fashion designer Paul Smith’s exhibition, My Name Is Paul Smith, arrived in Shanghai. The show guides visitors through the designer’s life, offering a valuable peek into what it takes to become a legend of the fashion world. The designer was in Shanghai for the opening of the exhibition, creating a buzz across the city and hoping to entice the Chinese public to visit the show that has seen over half a million visitors worldwide thus far.

    With stores located in 73 countries, Paul Smith is the man credited for the re-popularization of boxer shorts in the 1980’s, and now boasts the most Instagrammed building in all of California—in the form of his bright pink Melrose Avenue store. The touring exhibition arrived in Shanghai after visits in London, L.A., Taiwan, and two stops in Japan—Kyoto and Tokyo—where Smith has gained somewhat of a cult following. The designer has more than 200 outlets in Japan, compared with just 18 in his home country of the U.K. These statistics make Japan his biggest market anywhere in the world, representing 40 percent of sales.

    His success in Japan is partly attributed to the designer’s longstanding contribution to the market; he was first invited to visit Japan in 1982, just three years after the opening of his second store in London. Despite holding off on the Chinese market until 2012, Paul Smith’s potential in the mainland is growing as luxury Japanese culture continues to shape the decisions of buyers in China. The brand at present has one store in Shanghai, two in Beijing, and one in the city of Chengdu.

    Chinese travel to Japan reached an all-time high at the end of 2016, leading to the coining of the term ‘explosive shopping’ as the cheaper yen gave rise to a huge tourism boom between the countries. Chinese tourists continue to flock to Japan due to a growing number of short and convenient direct flights, and as such the opening of My Name is Paul Smith in Shanghai hopes to be timely and fruitful in expanding the brand’s Chinese market.

    At the opening of the show, Paul Smith spoke to Jing Daily on the secrets of his own time-honored success, including what exactly emerging Chinese brands should be doing to make and maintain their own status in the world’s fastest-growing fashion industry.

    Fashion designer Paul Smith showed up at "My Name Is Paul Smith" Exhibition in Shanghai. Photo: Courtesy Paul Smith
    Fashion designer Paul Smith showed up at "My Name Is Paul Smith" Exhibition in Shanghai. Photo: Courtesy Paul Smith

    Paul Smith’s 4 Secrets to Success:#

    Secret 1: ‘You can’t do it without doing it’#

    My first shop was 3m x 3m—it was more like a tiny room than a shop. At the beginning, I opened the shop only on Fridays and Saturdays. Monday to Thursday I did freelance jobs to earn money to keep the shop going. I think it’s important to have a dream and to stay with a dream, but to keep your dream pure; you have to work to support it in other ways. If you can get the balance right between commerciality and purity, then maybe your dream will go forward. Get a job, get a job, work in the evenings, gain experience and grab onto everything you can.

    At my first collection I only had one person come on the last day and luckily they placed an order. The thing is, now it’s a mixture of things that you have to know. So in the run up to designers' first collections, you hope that they’ve gained experience by working in a friend's store, or they can physically make the clothes themselves, or they’ve been getting around and getting to know bloggers and magazine editors. It’s such a mélange of stuff.

    Secret 2: ‘Nobody needs another fashion designer’#

    Nowadays, there are so many designers and so many brands, that breaking into the industry and making a success is so difficult. When my wife was studying Fashion Design, there were 17 students in her class. Now, the Royal College of Art has over 2500 students learning fashion. You really have to find a point of view. For example, one of my designs is the ‘suit to travel in’—a suit that doesn’t crease. In a busy world, I found a way to make the common suit more interesting. I didn’t just promote this on a mannequin either; we showed it on an Olympic gymnast, on video screens in train stations, shopping malls and department stores. That’s what made it a success.

    Secret 3: ‘Make room to break the rules’#

    It's important to try to think differently, not down the obvious route. Many brands have the same shop everywhere around the world, but I have 12 architects working on designing my shops so that they’re all individual. When I started as a designer, designing clothes was about having an idea in your head and your heart and hoping somebody liked it. But now it’s so formulaic, it’s so much about trends and fabrics and associations, and it's attached to so much more. Whereas in the beginning, you just did it because you had an idea about something. So everything with my shops is based on trying to make my shops and products different from somebody else’s. And gosh, I really wish people would understand that, because the world is so homogenized now, there’s just so much of the same thing, and so it was just really a passion as opposed to a business thought from the beginning.

    Secret 4: ‘You can find inspiration in everything. If you can’t, you’re not looking properly’#

    In today’s busy world, I think it's important to remember that inspiration can come from anywhere. All you have to do is take the time to look and see.

    My own success has to do with my tireless enthusiasm, the love of the job, thinking laterally not down the obvious route, and being interested in the world of creativity. Not necessarily just fashion, but all forms of creativity.

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